Self-Discovery through Choice Boards

Tina Darling

Tina Darling is a Learning Experience Designer at Mason City Schools in Mason, Ohio. She is passionate about empowering students to take more ownership of their learning, and in supporting growth of the whole child.

Self-discovery, one of the attributes of personalized learning, is when students learn more about themselves to help guide their experiences. By reflecting on choices, ideas, and learning, students learn how to manage themselves to optimize decisions regarding content, interactions with peers and teachers, and even the environment in which they choose to learn.

While choice boards are an opportunity to elevate student voice, it is integral that they are used in a way that provides meaningful, authentic, and rigorous learning experiences. In order to create these experiences, students will need to be taught these skills and strategies of self-reflection and self-discovery to maximize their learning and opportunities for growth. Providing students with choices does not translate into a “free for all”; rather it should lead to an encounter with learning that is deliberate and thoughtful.

As a student considers different learning opportunities within a choice board, a number of considerations must be made. The following are a set of self-reflection questions that may be helpful in guiding students as they consider what choices would work best for them.

  • What do I want to learn more about? Students will consider their interests and curiosities as they decide which pathway to take. Increasing engagement is one benefit in relating to students’ different passions but also helps them grow in the areas in which they are most interested. Students are in the driver’s seat and they can direct their energy and work into an area that they see fit.
  • In what areas can I grow? Students will think about their strengths and opportunities for growth, and decide upon a pathway that helps them improve their skills and mindsets. We have learned that students learn the most at the edge of their comfort zone, at the brink of their prior knowledge, so which pathway will take them to this area where they can embark on new learning?
  • What pathway will appropriately challenge me? Somewhat linked to growth opportunities, students will need to examine the different choices offered and decide which one is within their zone of proximal development. Which choice will appropriately challenge and stretch their learning, without taking them to the point of frustration? Which choice will allow for engagement without being too easy and rote?
  • How do I learn best? Does the student prefer reading? Are videos the optimal experience for the student’s learning? Perhaps a podcast and auditory strategies are a preference for learning. Students will need to consider in what ways they want to engage in the material, based on the choices offered on the choice board.

Other Considerations to Support Learners

While you could present students with all of the questions at once, it may be more helpful to ask them to carefully consider them each time they make a choice. Putting in a reflective moment before each choice can be powerful.

There may be students who need more support and more structure with choices. Knowing students well is at the basis of personalized learning, so if a student needs more frequent check-ins or a conference with the teacher to help support the self-reflection, a plan can be co-created with the student to ensure growth and positive experiences with learning. A student who is working on managing impulsivity may need guidance to pause and consider what choice would be best for his learning. Another student who struggles to stay on task may need scheduled check-ins with the teacher to ensure that the freedom of these learning opportunities with the choice board doesn’t prove to be too distracting for her.

Choice boards are often seen as a way to elevate student voice, but by implementing purposeful space and time for reflection, they can elevate self-discovery as well.

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